The waters of Yellowstone National Park hold a great prize that many fly fishers travel a long way to find, the Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout. But this prize is threatened by a danger which previous generations of anglers themselves introduced.
Wanting to provide more opportunities for anglers, the US Fish Commission stocked some Yellowstone lakes that actually held no fish until then.
“Beginning in 1880 and 1890,” said Todd Koel, Yellowstone National Park Biologist. “And some of the first ones were these non-native lake trout.”
At the time biologists thought there was no way fish could migrate from Lewis and Shoshone Lakes to Yellowstone Lake. But the fish found a way.
“There is a chance that the lake trout actually accessed Yellowstone Lake, over time, by swimming up,” said Koel.
It took almost a century for that to happen, but once the lake trout reached the lake, things changed quickly.
“The Yellowstone Cutthroat trout, the native fish in the area, just completely plummeted,” said Heather White, Yellowstone Forever President & CEO.
But now, the biologists have a solution.
“So we have a large netting program, a gill netting program that’s targeting these invasive non-native lake trout,” said Koel.
The program costs more than $1 million a year and that’s where White and Yellowstone Forever step in.
“We received a $500,000 donation from the National Park Foundation and the Argyros Foundation to support the native fish program at Yellowstone National Park,” said White.
“We are pretty actively now trying to reverse a lot of what went on over the last century or so,” said Koel.
That means taking to the streams to where planted brook and rainbow trout threaten the native cutthroats.
Anglers are sometimes asked to keep all nonnative fish and sometimes, streams are poisoned or electrified.
“If we have situations where the cutthroat or the grayling are totally gone,” said Koel.
And it’s not just fish that benefit.
“It has impacts with osprey, with bears, with beavers, and with other wildlife,” said White.
“It’s actually an ecosystem restoration effort and that’s what this money is buying,” said Koel.
And it doesn’t hurt that anglers are now starting to benefit as well.
“In Yellowstone Lake, the fishing is actually really really good,” said Koel.
“We’re hearing people say how exciting it is to go fishing and whenever they go they see a Yellowstone Cutthroat trout and they’re excited to see the native fish come back,” said White.
The efforts to protect Yellowstone Cutthroat trout will have to go on for decades.
WEB EXTRA: Extended interviews